You probably weren’t invited and never will be, but welcome to Vogue powerhouse Anna Wintour’s fabulous 2015 Met Gala fund-raiser. It’s the prelude to a preview tour of Metropolitan Museum of Art costume curator Andrew Bolton’s blockbuster exhibition, “China: Through the Looking Glass.
In Andrew Rossi’s shallow but sometimes poignant and visually gorgeous documentary, “The First Monday in May,” you get to share the red carpet with Marion Cotillard, George Clooney, Justin Bieber, J-Law, J-Lo, ... a whole supermarket magazine rack of couture-clad stars who got to RSVP to this fashion-world extravaganza.
But is fashion art? Should it be shown in a museum and draw crowds of hundreds of thousands of visitors? Answer: Yes, according to almost everyone interviewed, mostly Met and Vogue personnel, who compete for the most hyperbolic praise. The only dissenting voices come from some of the designers themselves and a Chinese journalist during the show’s PR tour to Beijing, who asks Bolton and Wintour awkward questions about cultural appropriation and exploitation. What do they know? On with the show!
But putting on a production of this magnitude is not easy, especially when you only have a vague — or Vogue — notion of what it’s about. It’s not really a display of Orientalist clichés and stereotypes, it’s a commentary on them, or something like that. It’s a fantasy image, etc. Sitting in on a meeting as an advisor, Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai (images from his 2000 masterpiece “In the Mood for Love” are part of the show) looks aghast when Bolton explains why they are including Mao and Buddha in the same gallery. It’s because they are two Chinese icons who are worshipped, you see. And kind of chubby,
Other documentaries — Frederick Wiseman’s “National Gallery” (2014) especially — have done a better job observing the politics, pressures, and pitfalls of putting on a major art museum exhibit. But Wintour steals the show with her ruthless selection and seating plan for the 500 celebrities and power brokers invited. “What has he done lately?” she says about one. “Nothing.” He’ll probably be sitting next to the restroom door.
Rossi (“Page One: Inside the New York Times”) ends with a stirring montage of the finished product. It’s worth the wait. Is it art? Without a doubt.
THE FIRST MONDAY IN MAY
Directed and written by Andrew Rossi. Starring Anna Wintour. Andrew Bolton, Wong Kar-Wai. At Kendall Square. 91 minutes. Unrated (occasionally crass cultural tone-deafness, lots of fabulous celebrities in offensively overpriced couture.).Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.